#AmIFilAm “How I Was Inspired To Forge My Own Path” by Kristina London

The below submission is one of future stories to be told under the #AmIFilAm blog series.  

Inspired by our past blog series #FKEDUP, UniPro wants to delve deeper into identity struggles that all Filipinos face in the community. We want to challenge what it means to be Filipino and to encourage readers to contribute their unique qualities to shape the idea of Filipino identity. The series is intended to discover how you value yourself as an individual and how you value yourself within the Filipino community.

My dad had three topics he relied on for storytelling:

1) Religious miracles he’d overheard or sworn had happened to him

2) Occurrences in the child psychiatric unit he worked in at the hospital

3) His childhood


Story types 1 and 2 tended to blur together in my mind.  He would talk about praying over an anxiety-riddled child and simultaneously inspiring the child to start eating again.   I usually found these stories hard to believe so I paid little attention to their message.  But the stories of his childhood stood out in stark contrast among the rest.  He grew up as one of thirteen children.  He lived in a house with a makeshift metal roof.  He sometimes hid his ulam[1] underneath his rice just to trick his parents into giving him more to eat.  He didn’t have any toys. He played with the neighbors out in the street and a stray dog he named Batman.

I was one of two children. I grew up in a house with a mortgage that was paid by the time I was in sixth grade.   I was a picky eater and often left half of my plate uneaten.  I had two shelves filled with beanie babies that were gathering fine layers of dust.

From his stories, I was able to piece together a common message: if you want a good life for your children, you need to have the means to provide for them.  These ‘means’ were universally interpreted as having a high paying job.  My dad wanted to become a doctor, but lacked the money to pay for the many years of schooling required.   He settled for becoming a nurse, moved to the states, met my mom (who was also a nurse), had two girls, and now happily works in Manhasset where he’s supplied with material for story types 1 and 2 daily.

There was a formula he applied to his life, that my mother also applied to hers and later my sister to hers.   The formula was to pick a career that was respectable, always hiring, and paid well.  My parents were thrilled about their eldest daughter completing her degree in nursing.  She found work immediately and makes enough to rent her own apartment in a prime location of Brooklyn.

But what about their strange, little bunso[2]?

I became severely stressed about finding a career path that would make me money.  Every career my parents suggested I go into, from physical therapy to nursing, was based on a potential paycheck.  I grew numb from trying to find an alternative degree that I’d be happy with, and enrolled in a college heavily focused on pumping out professionals in the medical field.  The guilt I carried from being a first generation Filipino with all these privileges bestowed upon me definitely influenced my choices.  How could I grumble about an education being paid for out of pocket when my dad grew up not able to even afford school lunch some days?

The first two years of my academic college career were unremarkable and lacked passion.   I remember crying to my mother over lacking the passion for the future that all my peers seemed to have.  My peers were excited to become doctors.  They knew that the studying involved was tough, but they were driven by their end goal.  They had a passion I couldn’t replicate, as hard as I tried.  My end goal was wealth while theirs was to save lives.

Feeling disconnected from my peers, I attended a meeting of a Filipino based organization at my school.  Here, I thought, maybe I could relate to others who are being pressured by their parents with similar circumstances.  It was at this meeting I was introduced to UniPro and the young professionals associated with the organization.  I attended my first Summit conference on a whim, and in a random turn of events, my ‘end goal’ transformed.

Being exposed to Filipinos who were in fields other than medicine really blew my mind.  These people were chefs, news anchors, and artists.  One even worked at the White House.  From their stories, I was shaken from my belief that there is a set formula to follow growing up.  Instead, it was more than okay to try or fail at pursuing your passions.  Being able to look up to successful, young professional Filipinos really changed the game for me.


They were living, breathing examples of end goals

not based on money, but passion.

Here’s the thing about my dad’s stories: I think I was interpreting them wrong all this time.   He did not tell them with the intention of making me feel guilty of all my privileges.  He told his stories to remind me that I had opportunities present he never had, and would be a fool not to take advantage of them. His stories have shaped my upbringing for as long as I can remember, but now it is time for me to set my own narrative.

[1] ulam: main dish

[2] bunso: youngest in the family


Family Talk: Unearthing the Past


I used to think my parents were straight up crazy. Case in point: I was eating lunch with them one day in a humble sandwich shop, begrudgingly listening to my mom give me financial advice about something or another. Suddenly, her face turned stone serious. She looked me dead in the eye and started whispering in Tagalog as if it she were embedding her message in some secret code. The only problem was that I’ve never been able to understand Tagalog, a fact that she of all people knew very well. “What...?” I replied bewildered and frustrated, “I can’t understand you.”

She then drew her words out slowly.


I looked around the nearly empty store to see what diabolical agents she might be trying to hide this classified information from. There was nobody but the cashier and two other customers well out of earshot.

“I… don’t… know… what… you’re… saying…”

At last she switched back to English, lowered her voice even softer and divulged:

“Do not ever enter your credit card information into a cell phone app.”

I was not amused.

“What? Why didn’t you just say that? Nobody here or anywhere cares that you’re warning me about entering credit card information!”


I pocketed that scene into my head as another one of my mom’s ridiculous antics, and it was only later that I understood why she was behaving so abnormally. I was reading The Gun Dealer’s Daughter by Pilipina author Gina Apostol and casually mentioned to my parents that it was set in the Philippines during the Marcos regime.

“Yes, they called those of us born during his rule Marcos babies,” explained my mom. “And you weren’t allowed to saying against the government. People were really disappearing.”

A blunt blow of realization hit me. I never fully imagined what it was like for my parents growing up through a tyrannical dictatorship, whispering in codes for over twenty years. For a land-of-the-free baby like me, the reality of their past was unfathomable.

Throughout my childhood I’ve heard very little about my parents’ younger years in the Philippines, as if starting a new chapter in their lives necessitated silence from the previous ones, and my assimilated American self didn’t need to know about any of it. Now that I’m older and have shown them I am interested in my roots, the stories are finally starting to slowly trickle out.

For me, the differences between their lives then and now are almost inconceivable. I’m talking traveling salesman to comfortable couch potato, grass mats to memory foam mattresses, farm living to strip mall-studded suburbia. Equally shocking are the tales of their struggles as undocumented immigrants, such as how they were manipulated by their employers and faced the threat of deportation.

The stories I’ve heard, however, are merely snapshots of the big picture. I realized that I know very little about my parents, barely anything about my grandparents and practically nothing beyond them. It’s almost shameful to think that I'm in the dark when it comes to understanding my own family’s history.

That’s why my latest personal quest is to unearth the stories on my family’s past and find ways to keep them alive in the future. It’s exciting really. What lost adventures are waiting to be uncovered? What patterns might I find, what quirks, what tragedies, what might I see reflected back in myself?

I bet there are lifetimes of lessons to learn. I would be gaining a better understanding of who my parents are as people, and preserving a unique narrative that can’t be found in any textbook. What it really comes down to though is that I’m looking for a good story. And the stories that touch us the most, whether in books or Facebook news feeds are those that we can relate to. What’s more relatable than the epic saga of the people who made you?

Photo Credit: Big Fish Games

SPAM: A Story of Love and Hate


A Hormel advertisement from the 1940's showing Americans how many different meals they can make with SPAM. For many Pilipinos, there’s nothing like the sound of sizzling SPAM on a hot frying pan just before brunch. When I was in college, a taste of home was never far away as I always made sure that a little rectangular can of SPAM was gleefully sitting in my kitchen cabinet. On lazy Sunday mornings I would throw it over a bed of white rice and enjoy the savory smell of spiced ham wafting in the air.

My (non-Pilipino) roommates, however, did not share the same sentiments as I did. Any mention of eating SPAM was met with a grimace and a resounding: “Ew! Why?”

One of them was so disgusted at the mere presence of SPAM that she wanted to forbid me from cooking it in the apartment while she was home. Sure, I understood that SPAM had a bad rep for being artificial mystery meat, but I was still offended. To me, SPAM was more than just processed meat in a can. It was part of my family and my culture. It was a part of who I was.

My grossed out friends did make one valid point, however: Why? Why did the Pilipino side of me identify so strongly with an American brand of canned pork shoulder and ham? And why was it so despised in its own country of origin?

During World War II, SPAM became the ideal candidate for food rations because it was a cheap and nonperishable good source of protein, and masses of it were sent overseas to American troops. After the Japanese invaded the Philippines, the American soldiers stationed there were able to give their surplus food rations to fleeing Filipinos who were forced to abandon their homes, and thus the SPAM sensation began.

Back in the United States, getting one’s hands on fresh meat during wartime was not easy. For the same economical reasons SPAM spammed its way onto everybody’s plates and eventually became so ubiquitous that everybody grew sick of it. According to Ty Matejowsky, “it was and will always remain an unappetizing reminder of the widespread deprivation brought on by the Great Depression and World War II."


But while SPAM became associated with poverty and unrefinement in the U.S., the very fact that it was an American product ironically elevated SPAM to a foreign delicacy in the Philippines, gratifying happy consumers spanning the working class to the wealthy. Today, SPAM has become so riotously popular among Pilipinos around the world that it is now considered a staple in Pilipino cuisine and inseparable from Pilipino identity. Pilipino obsession with SPAM has reached such a level a fanaticism that there is a restaurant in Manila entirely dedicated to it called the SPAMJAM Café (featuring SPAM Burgers, SPAM Spaghetti, SPAM nuggets, and oh so much more). Maharlika, the hot modern Pilipino restaurant in New York City, flaunts preparing SPAM with a sophisticated flare, including menu choices like beer-battered SPAM fries wittily described as “fresh from the can.”

Beer-battered SPAM fries are a popular appetizer at Maharlika in New York City.

Its history has evolved SPAM into a complex cultural symbol for both Pilipinos and Americans. SPAM is a symbol of love and hate, rich and poor. It’s a symbol of America’s colonial expansion into Asia and the Pacific and also a reflection of the Pilipino colonial mentality. For many Fil-Ams like myself, eating American SPAM is strangely an expression of my Pilipino identity that clashes against my American one. And although it can sometimes represent shame, SPAM has also become a symbol of pride, rallying Pilipino communities together with gelatinous cohesion.

In all essence, SPAM is the past and the future all globbed together in one little rectangular can. And gosh darn it, it tastes great too. I love SPAM. There, I said it.


Photo credits:,,,

The "Know Thyself" Challenge


"Those who do not know how to look back at where they came from will never get to their destination."

The past can reveal a lot, and those who do not know their own are doomed to either repeat the mistakes of those before them or go against the momentum given to them.

I believe another important element absent from Rizal’s quote is “be aware of where you are now.” Awareness of one’s past and present puts more control and direction toward the future. The uncertainties of the future are mitigated, the immediate path becomes clearer and from that we become more decisive as an individual.

What about as a community? As Fil-Ams, what sort of look-back in history do we need to get to where we are headed? Where are we headed to begin with? Then there is the more present oriented question of “Where are we now?”

These are questions I want answered so we may understand our past, present, and future as individuals of the Fil-Am community. Though the sum of the parts don’t necessarily equate to the whole, we might at least see trends in our individual pasts and presents, as well as motivation for the future. All three will give us an idea of how we are moving as a community.

When we think about these three parts -- past, present, and future -- we can immediately see how intricately tied we are to the Philippines and its natives. Our culture, our family and our friends all branch out from the same tree as the Pilipino people. The branches have spread across the globe with overseas foreign workers (OFWs), nth generation immigrants, and those who have always remained native to the mother islands. Their story is ours as much as ours is theirs.

I’d like us to attack this endeavor strategically as a series over the next year. Each post will deal with a set of questions about the past, the present, or the future from the perspective of individuals; and will be presented as a challenge. I want us to discover our stories together and share them with each other in the comments, or simply bring it up in conversation with friends and family.

I’ll also concurrently interview Pilipino natives, OFWs, and various Pilipino-Americans and feature their stories side-by-side. How interesting would it be, for example, to see three nurses -- a second-generation Fil-Am, an OFW in the Middle East, and one in a rural hospital in the Philippines -- and compare and contrast their stories?

I would love to know why they are where they are, what they do similar and different from each other, and why they do what they do. How different are their motivations and dreams for their future? How similar are their pasts?

If you or any Pilipino/Fil-Am you know has a story you would like featured, here is the pre-interview questionnaire!

For the first challenge, let's take a look at the immediate past: 

Engage your parents and hear their story. Specifically how did they, as Pilipinos or Fil-Ams, believe they got to where they are from where they started? Where are they from exactly? Then share their story with the rest of the community!

I look forward to your answers. When we understand how we got here and where we really are right now, we will help each other get to our destination. Know thyself.

Photo credit:

Spam - Ain't No Pantry Like a Pinoy Pantry


It’s been about four years now since I moved out of my parents’ house and decided to take a huuuge bite out of the Bigggg Apple and move into... a shoebox. I miss home-cooking (no amount of excited emojis can properly express the taste of my mom’s mechado). However, I realized the other day that despite not living at home, there are a few things in my pantry that are very Pilipino and help bring the taste of home to my new home.

  • SPAM: Why do I have so much SPAM? I am literally being spammed by SPAM. A little over a year ago, just hours before Hurricane Sandy hit New York, my roommate and I fried two cans of SPAM just in case we wouldn’t be able to cook food for a few days. We ate all the SPAM... before the hurricane even made landfall.
  • Silver Swan Soy Sauce: Every marinated batch of meat calls for buckets of soy sauce... and Sprite, apparently.
  • Sardines: The summer after I graduated college, I did a two-month unpaid internship in Australia. Yes, unpaid. I was working and not making money. Whatever pocket money I had was supposed to cover my nights out with friends at the bars and fun touristy activities like climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge and playing with kangaroos. Luckily my office was walking distance to my apartment so I would go home for lunch and eat sardines. Doing that saved me tons of money.
  • Rufina Patis: Fish Sauce. It is as smelly as it sounds (perhaps even more so), but the taste is magical. Goes perfectly on brothy chicken dishes, which is quite puzzling.
  • Tang: This is a sorry excuse for orange juice, because I don’t think it’s technically healthy. It’s basically orange-flavored sugar. When I was a kid, I would tap my glass to get the sugar at the bottom when I was done drinking. Actually, I still do this. Nevermind.
  • Corned Beef: Whenever I go home to New Jersey to visit my parents, you will most definitely find me lugging back the following to Manhattan: a load of clean laundry (I always regret it on the way back, but whatever, I save $5 per load!) and at least two cans of Palm Corned Beef. Although, I always later discover an extra can that my mom stuffs in my bag when I’m not looking. She’s like the Corned Beef fairy. Thanks Ma!
  • Rice Cooker: Back when I was shopping around for colleges and visiting campuses with my parents, there was this one time when our tour guide was showing us a sample dorm room. When the tour guide asked if anyone in the group had any questions, my mom raised her hand and asked, “Can he bring a rice cooker?” I wasn’t able to bring one to college, but best believe I use a rice cooker now.
  • Pancit Canton: It’s pretty much Ramen Noodles. Except you don’t feel as broke and sad when you eat it.
  • Vienna Sausages: You know it’s going to be a good day when you shake them out of the can in one motion and they’re all intact! #smallvictories. But you splashed sausage juice all over your kitchen counter. #youcantwineverything.
  • Datu Puti Vinegar: With Longaniza. Garlic rice. Fried egg. Done. So done.
  • Mang Tomas All-Purpose Sauce: Lechon is just not the same without it. (Side note: it is sooo not an “all purpose sauce” like it claims to be. Wikipedia even says so.
  • White Rice: I’ve been trying really hard these past few months to be healthier and eat brown rice. My roommate and I have even gone so far as to hide our tub (yes, tub) of white rice. But daaaamn, there is nothing as beautiful as a plate of ulam on a bed of steaming, white rice.

Cheap. Delicious. Cultural. Dare I say they are solid hangover cures? And most importantly, guaranteed to help you survive through a zombie apocalypse? Non-perishable goods FTW!

Photo Credit: The Perfect Pantry